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How much difference good DAC makes?

post #1 of 67
Thread Starter 

I know good source and headphones make the biggest difference in sound quality. I've just added Little Dot I+ to my chain, and noticed the difference.  That led me to wonder how much of difference I can expect out of dedicated external DACs. 

 

Would I be able to tell the difference between iPad's DAC to FiiO E7's DAC?  How about from E7 to Pico USB DAC to V-DAC to DACMagic?  I'm looking any where form $100 to $500 to spend on DAC, and I'm like to know how much return I would get compared to non-dedicated external DACs.

 

I'm also curious if those up-sampling feature makes any difference to normal CD ripped MP3s.


Edited by codeninja - 3/20/11 at 7:48pm
post #2 of 67

Well your source is the determining factor for the quality of reproduction you hear. For digital audio, source means DAC.  Now you're LD amp is up to the task of relaying that quality sound to your cans without doing anything horrible to it.  But your headphones need do be of sufficient quality to let the quality sound come through, again, without doing anything horrible to it. Thats why cans with a very neutral sound are highly prized.

 

Honesty you'll have a really tough time telling the difference between a iPad, Fiio E7, Pico or DACMagic.  I'm sure they all probably do a respectable job but you're going to have to look up a bit higher to really get into DACs that have an obvious positive effect on the overall sound quality.  The reason for that is mostly due to the A in DAC.  Anytime you have a component that is manipulating an analog signal, you are listening to the results of what that components power supply is doing.  And the power supply is the first thing that gets skimped on when a manufacturer creates a "consumer"  level component.

 

There are some good values in DACs but I'll leave the specific recommendations to those more experienced than myself.

post #3 of 67

A better dac makes a huge difference.


Edited by dallan - 3/20/11 at 8:00pm
post #4 of 67

^^^^

 

What he said. 

post #5 of 67

I dont have the E7, but the addition of an HRT Music Streamer II to my laptop has made a huge difference. If I plug my D4 amp straight into the headphone out on my netbook, its not a pleasant experience - I am amplifying the deficiencies of the headphone out on the N10J and the crap onboard audio chip (technically, thats also a DAC, but its a crapDAC ...).

 

The other biggie, and something that I simply hadnt though of previously, is that the analog output from the MSII is significantly more powerful than it was from the headphone out (or from the Fiio LOD I use with my 6G Nano, for that matter). Given a choice, I think most people prefer to supply their amp with a powerful, reliable analog signal.

 

Whether you like the sound signature of a given DAC is a much tougher question to answer - you may well listen to the base MSII and feel that you prefer a sharper pencil drawing those notes : thats where the fun starts :)

post #6 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post

Well your source is the determining factor for the quality of reproduction you hear. For digital audio, source means DAC.  Now you're LD amp is up to the task of relaying that quality sound to your cans without doing anything horrible to it.  But your headphones need do be of sufficient quality to let the quality sound come through, again, without doing anything horrible to it. Thats why cans with a very neutral sound are highly prized.

 

Honesty you'll have a really tough time telling the difference between a iPad, Fiio E7, Pico or DACMagic.  I'm sure they all probably do a respectable job but you're going to have to look up a bit higher to really get into DACs that have an obvious positive effect on the overall sound quality.  The reason for that is mostly due to the A in DAC.  Anytime you have a component that is manipulating an analog signal, you are listening to the results of what that components power supply is doing.  And the power supply is the first thing that gets skimped on when a manufacturer creates a "consumer"  level component.

 

There are some good values in DACs but I'll leave the specific recommendations to those more experienced than myself.

So, probably, it's better for me to get a DAC with its own power supply (vDAC) than draws power from USB (Pico) or rechargeable battery (E7)?

I'm currently leaning toward vDAC or DACmagic for the reason. Plus, I'm not sure if E7 will offer enough upgrade from iPad, and curious about up-sampling feature.
post #7 of 67

Going from onboard sound to a decent dac does make a huge difference. But to hear a big improvement from that, you will have to go with a high end dac. A lot of mid priced dacs do sound the same.

 

post #8 of 67

The Dac with the up sampling "Magic Bullet" is almost a mandatory piece of equipment, sooner or later!   The power supply is very important as it is with just about any equipment that "we" buy to listen to recorded music...... Look for a good used dac on this sight or Audiogon.... But you said you might start with the V-Dac, and I've not heard this cheaper dac but it has got some nice write ups for a entry level Dac....estreeter, Your Quote 

Whether you like the sound signature of a given DAC is a much tougher question to answer - you may well listen to the base MSII and feel that you prefer a sharper pencil drawing those notes : that's where the fun starts :) Fun indeed,  What a excellent way of describing the MANY different sounds you can expect from Dac's..........  codeninja , Make sure you can return the Dac or exchange "IT" within the allotted days from the dealer, just in case..(if possible).

post #9 of 67

I have to say that the 'sharper pencil' DAC, whilst it will probably appeal to many who consider themselves audiophiles, isnt necessarily going to make you happy. I had a considerably more expensive DAC which did everything but boil water, received good reviews for its technical prowess, but just didnt gel with the majority of my music. If I listened to a lot of classical, particularly strings, it may have survived - I dont, and it didnt.

post #10 of 67
I'm in the camp that doesn't think digital sources make that much difference. The quality of the recording is much more important. Headphones are second most important.

The "source first" mythology kicked off in an advertising campaign from Linn about 40 years ago. 40 years ago, a quality turntable really made a difference. It still does today. But over that time digital turned up. Modern CD players and DACs have distortion below the threshold of human hearing. The major difference between digital components today is in voltage output. That will make an audible difference, but does not necessarily mean one source is better than another. Level match digital sources and they sound eerily the same.

Build quality is another matter, though. You will want to pay more for something that will hold up.

Personally, I'd go for a used DAC with good build quality. You'll find quite a few at Audiogon.

Otherwise, don't worry too much about it. Buy a DAC that is well made and has the connections you want.
post #11 of 67

x2, x3, xinfinity.

 

post #12 of 67

Does it really have to be a high end dac? There's an enormous improvement from my laptop's onboard sound to my $15 sansa clip
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by moodyrn View Post

Going from onboard sound to a decent dac does make a huge difference. But to hear a big improvement from that, you will have to go with a high end dac. A lot of mid priced dacs do sound the same.

 



 

post #13 of 67

I already said if going from onboard sound(ex laptop) there will be an improvent with any decent dac, but after that, it's a different story.


 

post #14 of 67

On board sound(imo) is the absolute worst analog signal you can get from a digital source. It doesn't take much to improve upon that. If there are worse sources, I haven't heard it. But after that, then any improvement is minor at best. I've bought and sold many budget and midfi dacs. There wasn't much difference if any between them all. You have to move up to a high-end dac to notice a difference beyond that. And even then, it's not a night and day difference. I've heard difference between 200.00 amps and 250.00 amps. I hadn't heard the same difference between a 200.00 and 250.00 dac. In fact, I hadn't heard much of a difference between a 200.00 dac and a 500.00 one. But the difference between a 200.00 amp and a 500.00 amp "can" be a huge difference. I mean a night and day difference. I was just at a meet the other day, and one of most impressive things I heard was a setup featuring an ipod. There were multiple 1000.00+ sources there, and they did sound good. But the sound out of the ipod setup really impressed me. It wasn't even an imod/diymod. It was an ipod with an alo wooden dock(don't know if that made much of a difference or not).


Edited by moodyrn - 3/22/11 at 4:14pm
post #15 of 67
Thread Starter 

I'm pretty damn impressed of my system of ipad -> Little Dot I+ with EF91 tubes -> Senns HD598 listening to music with acoustics. Eagles Hotel California sounds amazing to me.  However, other rock music is missing a bit of thump in my chain.  Probably, I need to re-buy M50 for it, or a DAC can help the issue?

 

I don't intend to go all the way, but the temptation of addressing what's missing is definitely there as I'm happy with the majority of my music collection.

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